Sunday Stephen hopes MLS move will lead to Nigeria recall

By Oluwashina OkelejiBBC Sport
Sunday Stephen
Sunday Stephen made his senior debut for Nigeria in 2010

Sunday Stephen says he hopes his move to Real Salt Lake can help resurrect his international career with Nigeria.

The midfielder has sealed a two-year deal with the Major League Soccer (MLS) side after his contract with Turkish club Alanyaspor was ended by mutual consent.

The 27-year-old former Spain youth international was widely hailed as one Nigeria's brightest talents when he made his senior debut for his country of birth in 2010, but has since dropped off the international radar.

"I've switched to the MLS where I hope to attain greater heights and win trophies with Salt Lake," Stephen told BBC Sport.

"I have a lot to prove and am still ambitious. A new club is just what I needed and my focus is on settling down and establishing myself here.

"I remain confident that hard work and success could lead to another chance with Nigeria.

"This is a growing league and what Obafemi Martins [who earned a Nigeria recall after shining for Seattle Sounders] has done here creates a clear path for me to follow."

Stephen has played for eight different teams in his 10 years as a professional since bursting onto the scene at Spanish second division side Polideportivo Ejido in 2005.

He joined Valencia in the top flight in 2007 and played against Chelsea in the 2007/08 Uefa Champions League before loan spells at Osasuna, Real Betis and CD Numancia, joining the latter on a permanent deal in 2011.

In total, he played 76 matches with Numancia from 2011-2013 and has since played for Bnei Sakhnin in Israel, CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria and Alanyaspor in Turkey.

Although born in Nigeria, he played internationally for Spain at youth level, making appearances with the U-19, U-20 and U-21 teams.

Akinjide Idowu
Nigeria youth international midfielder Akinjide Idowu at the 2015 Fifa U-20 World Cup

After rejecting an initial approach from the Super Eagles in 2007, he finally earned his first senior national cap with Nigeria against Guinea in a 2012 Nations Cup qualifier in 2010.

Meanwhile, Nigeria youth international midfielder Akinjide Idowu has joined Portland Timbers 2 in the United States on a two-year deal with an option of a one-year extension.

Idowu, 19, who has represented Nigeria at U-17 and U-20 levels, will play for MLS side Timbers' reserves who compete in the third tier of football in the United States.

In 2013, he appeared in all six matches as Nigeria clinched a record fourth Fifa U-17 World Cup title in the United Arab Emirates.

Idowu played major roles as Nigeria won a record seventh African Under-20 Championship title in 2015 and reached the round of 16 at the 2015 Fifa U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.